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Risk of Lightning Strikes Rises in Summer

SUNDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- Although your risk of being struck by summer lightning is extremely small, you can make it still smaller by taking some basic precautions.

"Lightning is one of the most dangerous and frequently encountered weather hazards," said Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), in a college news release. "A person's risk for lightning injury is most consistently related to their failure to take appropriate precautions."

In the United States alone, lightning kills 55 people each year and seriously injures hundreds more, according to the ACEP. Lightning strikes the earth about 25 million times annually, according to U.S. Weather Service records.

As temperatures heat up and the atmosphere becomes increasingly unstable, the dangers associated with lightning are greater, the ACEP warned. Most people struck by lightning survive, but injuries can be permanent and include eye or ear damage, paralysis, burns, headaches and memory problems, it said in the release.

The organization added, however, that many of the deaths and injuries caused by lightning are preventable. The emergency physicians' group offered the following tips on how to avoid this calamity:

  • Stay inside during a storm. Anyone outdoors before or during a lightning storm should take shelter as soon as possible. An insulated building with plumbing and wiring is the safest choice. A non-convertible car is also safe.
  • Inside the house, turn off and stay away from electrical appliances, televisions, computers and power tools. Keep your distance from the fireplace as well.
  • Use cell phones and cordless phones rather than landline telephones with cords if possible.
  • Avoid water, which conducts electricity.
  • Keep away from metal objects.
  • Wait 30 minutes from the last observed lightning flash before resuming activities.

"Use common sense. If you plan to be outdoors, check the local weather forecast," said Schneider. "Generally, if you can hear thunder, you are at risk, even if you don't see lightning. Don't risk it. Seek shelter when those storms roll through."

The experts added anyone struck by lightning needs immediate medical attention. People struck by lightning are safe to touch, so if you know CPR, begin giving it immediately if someone does not have a pulse -- 100 chest compressions a minute for an adult, 30 compressions alternating with two breaths for a child.

More information

The U.S. National Weather Service provides more information on lightning safety.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: American College of Emergency Physicians, news release, July 9, 2011

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